It was “raising day” for a beautiful little corn barn that Jonathan Atwater built almost 200 years ago! On his 227th birthday, the Green Mountain Timber Frames team was putting the original roof boards back on the restored frame.
The day was sunny but cold, and as my family took our normal morning walk to school, we took a detour through the town cemetery. We were there to pay our respects and visit the grave of Jonathan Atwater, born on February 8, 1793.
Exploring the History of this Wonderful Timber Frame
We are very fortunate that the history of our very own Middletown Springs is recorded in a series of lectures that were delivered by Barnes Frisbie, a resident of the nearby town, Poultney Vermont. The lectures were given in 1867. What a treasure of a book, and a true gift to those of us here that seek to find the human and architectural stories in our history!
I can’t help but share the story that Frisbie told in 1867 about the clearing of the land where the barn was built, which was accomplished by a character named Azor Perry: “In the spring of 1778 he (Mr. Perry) shouldered his ax, all he had to bring but the clothes he wore, and took possession of the land. It was the same piece of land long known as the Azor Perry farm, and now owned and occupied by Jonathan Atwater.”
Frisbie tells further of Azor’s clearing of the land and his construction of a simple cabin, which he covered with wooden poles and bark. He made himself a bedstead of poles and elm bark. He managed to get a cow the first summer, “which he wintered on brows; that is, he cut down trees and the cow ate the tops.” Imagine the hardship and fortitude needed to fashion a house and fields with just an axe!
Azor Perry had eleven children, and one of his daughters married a man named Jonathan Atwater. Together they developed the land further, building a corn barn and a cider press. The corn barn is mentioned in the fabulous 1867 book as being located “between the Atwater house and cider mill.” Both of these other buildings were already gone when we became involved, but the old stone foundations can still be seen.
The corn barn fell on hard times in recent decades, due to neglect and a leaky roof. Green Mountain Timber Frames purchased the structure, disassembled it, and restored it. That brings us back to the present day. Thanks to some wonderful folks who partnered with us to put the frame back up, it is now standing strong and tall once more.
How did we put a timber frame up in the middle of winter?
The Vermont weather had been a pretty chilly setting. Speaking of setting, we used a foundation system that was new to us, and that worked out really well. Our clients felt strongly that they did not want to disturb the ground or surrounding trees more than necessary. The solution was to put the frame on metal piers instead of digging a big hole for concrete. We were fortunate to find just the guy for the job! Meet Zach Laporte.
We had kept hay bales on each of the point load points for the building in order to keep frost from getting too deep into the ground. After we marked each post location, Zach installed the eighteen metal posts. The “helical piles” have an auger profile on the base, and are literally screwed into the ground. Zach watched the hydraulic gauges as the posts went in, which is a way to measure the weight that the pile will sustain based on the soil type and density. One of my favorite features was getting all of the post tops on a perfectly level plane. Zach and I used a transit to mark the posts once the bases were sunk below the frost line, and then Zach cut each one off. A metal bracket was installed to anchor our timber sills, and we were ready for a raising!
Thanks to this foundation system, we were able to tuck the frame in between some beautiful old trees without damaging them.
Raising day for the Atwater Corn Barn
The weather was beautiful on the appointed day, and we started the barn raising at 11:00 AM when our clients arrived.
It was crisp, and we had one small dilemma: the sill mortises had some ice in there where we needed to set the post bottoms. Thankfully, Andy had brought his hairdryer to work with him! It worked great.
It was a treat to this entire barn raising without a machine! This was a good old fashioned “1,2,3, Hoist!” type of day.
By evening we had the main frame up and had started the rafters.
Day two started with shoveling some wet snow and then working through a freezing drizzle, but we still managed to get the eve addition up, and most of the rafters installed.
In order to provide more space in the barn for a small bath, kitchen, and sitting area, we had used vintage materials from our inventory to add an eve addition. I especially love how the addition rafters look.
Over the next few days, we installed the original roof boards and vintage siding that will be the interior show surface.
Now, a local contractor is hard at work building an insulated stud wall and a rafter system around the frame. The barn home will have a partial loft for sleeping, and an open floor plan for most of the space.
Wishing all of our friends and fans good health in these challenging times.
The Green Mountain Timber Frames team